Social workers who snatched four-day-old baby put her up for adoption over unproven abuse clAIMS
EXCLUSIVE by Lori Campbell and Martyn Halle 14/02/2009
Mum’s heartbreaking fight to get her daughter back.
Parents Baby A (pic: Steve Bainbridge)
A mum and dad have been told they will never see their young daughter again… after she was snatched away at only four days old.
Tiny Baby A was taken from her mum by social workers who claimed the tot, who we will call Emily, was at risk in the family home.
Not because of the mum’s failure to care for her – but because of a six-year-old unproven claim that her husband had injured his son from a previous marriage.
Yet, although interviewed by police, he never faced a criminal court over that allegation. And he has even been allowed unsupervised access to watch his boy grow up.
Now the High Court, in a devastating civil court ruling, has decided that a decision to forcibly adopt Emily – now aged four – away from her parents (who we are calling Tania and Stephen) must stand.
Revealing her agony for the first time, mum Tania said: “I had my beautiful baby girl snatched from me at just four days old. Only a mother could understand the horror of that.
“My only crime is that I love and trust my husband. I don’t believe he could ever harm a child, and the courts have been unable to prove it. I have already missed years of Emily’s childhood.”
Stephen, in his 40s, married Tania, in her mid-20s, in 2003. Almost a year after their wedding Tania gave birth to Emily in hospital and they were overjoyed to take her home two days later. But they were to enjoy just two days alone with their little girl before she was taken from them. Social workers claimed there was a danger her dad would hurt her because of the case six years earlier.
Stephen had been married before and has a 10-year-old son, Jamie. When he was eight weeks old, Jamie was taken to hospital with a suspected brain injury and was found to have suffered bleeding behind his eyes. The episode left him permanently disabled, and he now has cerebral palsy. A medical expert said that he had been shaken viciously.
Stephen, who also has a 12-year-old daughter from the previous marriage, said: “Doctors couldn’t tell for certain what was wrong with Jamie. But one came up with a theory it could be ‘shaken baby syndrome’, even though there was no conclusive evidence.
"My wife and I were told that care proceedings were being started. It was heartbreaking to be accused of harming your own child. I vehemently denied doing anything wrong, but no one listened.”
A whole year later – during which time Jamie stayed with his parents and came to no further harm – the couple were taken to a family court in London, where a judge concluded on the basis of an expert’s opinion that the child’s injuries had been caused by one of his parents.
The possibility that the baby had an inherited condition, provoking the same symptoms, was never explored.
And the theory put forward by the family’s lawyers that he banged his head on a baby bouncer while playing with another child was not accepted.
However, social workers in Enfield, North London, finally allowed Jamie to remain with his birth parents under daily supervision. And seven months later the local authority was impressed enough with their parenting to drop the visits.
And there the story might have ended if Stephen and his wife hadn’t split up at the end of 2000. They were granted, and still enjoy, joint custody of the boy and remain good friends. Stephen, whose first wife also backs his adoption fight, sees Jamie regularly and often spends time with him alone.
It was only when – almost four years later – Stephen remarried and his new wife Tania became pregnant that the social workers reappeared. Stephen, who himself has multiple sclerosis and walks with a stick, said: “Tania has no other children and we were both overjoyed to be having a baby.”
Then, when she was eight months pregnant, Stephen developed a heart problem and had to be rushed to hospital. He says social workers visited him at his bedside and handed him a letter saying they were starting emergency childcare proceedings for their unborn child.
I could barely breathe because of the shock,” he says. “It had been six years since Jamie’s case and I’d had no contact with social workers.”
Emily was born in December 2004. When she was just four days old, social workers burst into their home and took her away.
Tania said: “Stephen’s parents were visiting. We were missing an ingredient for dinner, and Stephen and his dad popped to the shops. While they were out social workers knocked on the door. They walked straight in, picked up Emily in her moses basket and walked out again.
“I was screaming and crying, begging them not to take her, grabbing at their arms.”
Social workers warned Tania she would only stand a chance of getting Emily back if she left her husband.
“We had no choice,” said Tania. “We decided I would go to live with my parents a few miles away and we would fight in court to be reunited as a family.”
Emily was returned to Tania the following day after a court injunction was obtained ordering Stephen to keep away from her.
But social workers were unhappy that Tania and her family remained close to Stephen.
“I often visited Stephen on my own, which was allowed under the injunction,” she said.
“He asked me to text him if Emily ever woke in the night because he wanted to be involved, and I did that. But for some reason, social workers wanted me to hate him and cut him out of our lives.”
Four months later, in April 2005, Emily was taken from her mother for a second time. Tania had been branded unfit to look after Emily simply because she trusted her husband.
Tania said: “I had taken Emily to visit my grandparents. But while I was there, two police cars turned up with a social worker. They burst into the house and snatched Emily from me again. I was in shock – I couldn’t believe what was happening. They said I had been ‘conspiring’ with Stephen. They thought we were going to kidnap Emily.”
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Social workers said Tania was too mild-mannered to be able to protect Emily from Stephen. At that point Emily was put into a foster home, and Stephen and Tania were allowed to visit her once a week for an hour.
“It was so emotional,” said Tania. “I tried my hardest to be happy around Emily. But I cried uncontrollably before and after we saw her.”
The couple have video footage taken on July 18, 2006, of them with Emily, and say they look happy and at ease together. At one point, they say the little girl puts her arms out to her mother, who picks her up and kisses her.
Touchingly, Tania says when she asks Emily where her daddy is, the toddler turns and points at Stephen. But already the clock was ticking towards their daughter’s adoption.
Within a few weeks, the couple were told new parents were being sought for their little girl. And they were horrified when they came across an advert in a glossy magazine offering her up for adoption.
The beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl was smiling at them from the page. The accompanying blurb described her as a bright, happy girl who likes swimming and games.
A phone number was printed alongside for anyone interested in becoming her parents. Tania said: “Our daughter was essentially being put up for sale in a magazine and under her own name. We hadn’t even been warned. It was despicable.”
At the time Enfield officials took Emily away, councils were under pressure to raise the number of children they had adopted by 50 per cent.
Tony Blair had promised millions of pounds to councils that managed to achieve targets. The aim was to get older children in care homes into new families.
But councils found it easier to place babies and cute toddlers such as Emily, and thousands of children under four were removed from their families across the country.
In October 2006 the couple saw Emily for the last time.
Stephen, his eyes filling with tears, said: “We didn’t know that then. We had arranged to see her, but the meeting was suddenly cancelled five minutes beforehand. Presumably a new family had been found. We didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye. It breaks my heart to think she doesn’t know why we aren’t there for her.”
In a desperate bid to beat the system, Stephen and Tania took Enfield Council to the Court of Appeal in March 2007. They asked for a stay of execution on the adoption while their case was heard by the European Court of Human Rights. But it was refused.
The couple did not give up there. Last month they were allowed to challenge the initial accusation against Stephen at the High Court. There they were backed by top europathologist Dr Waney Squier, who believes there is no evidence that the boy’s injuries were caused by her father.
In the three-day hearing, Dr Squier told the court the injuries were not consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. She said that, crucially, he had no other marks or injuries on his body to suggest he had been shaken violently.
She told the court that 85 per cent of autopsies in shaking cases have additional bruising or other injury. And she said the force required to produce bleeding behind the eyes would inevitably cause damage to the neck.
But the local authority’s expert Dr Neil Stoodley disagreed and said the injuries were consistent with SBS.
However the argument was based just on medical notes, because Jamie’s original brain scans had been lost.
The couple lost their final chance of halting the adoption when Mr Justice Mark Hedley, who described the decision as “agonising”, sided with the council and upheld the care order.
In what he described as a “dreadful conundrum”, he said: “Wrongly to find that there has been an NAHI (non-accidental head injury) is to risk tearing apart an innocent family – a shocking thing to happen.
“Likewise, wrongly failing to find NAHI where such in fact occurred is to risk returning a child to a situation of high or even fatal risk, as notorious cases have sadly demonstrated.
“The consequences of a judicial error in these cases are calamitous.”
The judge praised the parents’ persistence, saying: “The father’s belief in his innocence and the injustice done to his family is genuinely held.”
He also said there was not enough evidence for police to bring a trial on the initial child-abuse allegations. But he said there was still no new evidence to undermine the original findings.
The couple have vowed to appeal against the decision, but they are running out of time. Once Emily is officially adopted, it is British law that she can never be returned to her parents – even if they are found innocent.
Clinging on to each other in their living room, with walls covered in photos of Emily, the couple say they cannot bear to have another child.
Stephen said: “My health is getting worse and I do not want to go through the agony of having another baby taken away from us by the state.”
The couple are prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights if their appeal fails.
But Stephen said: “The European court cannot reunite us with our daughter – all we would get is monetary compensation, which means nothing to us when all we want is our little girl back.”
-For legal reasons, the real names of the people involved have been changed to protect their identities.